Once again, just like last year, a distress call is broadcast at Coniston Water: “Mayday, Mayday, I think I might have hit a rock”. But this time it is not Dame Janet beached on an underwater boulder and taking on water fast, instead it is the driver of the Scooby Van calling her support vehicle over the walkie-talkie. It would appear that Cumbria District Council had overlooked the fact that a large rock had been unexpectedly protruding from the tarmac in the middle of the A5084 just south of Torver (since the year 2,000,000BC) and the resultant impact with Scooby’s low profile high speed ‘slicks’ had caused a blowout. Fortunately, help was on hand in the form of Keith and Craig in the Truck, and also Jerry and Emma who had been last to leave the Campsite because it had taken them three hours to pack their Jeep. Emma was not impressed with the state of the tyre: ‘Call that a gash?’she sneered ‘When I hit the curb in France last year the hole in my tyre was twice that size!’ Now it should have been a simple operation to fit the spare tyre, but Keith was hindered by not being able to pump up his jack to the required length, and even with the help of a supporting trestle could not get the job done. Meanwhile Jerry was not exactly in a hurry to offer to completely unpack his car in order to access his somewhat larger equipment, and Skinner was not answering his chatline number, but fortunately in the end it was remembered that the LBC truck possessed a scissor jack that finally lifted Scooby the extra inch.
What a fantastic weekend it had been….the sun shone (not), the campsite was dry (not) and some of the finest rowers in the land demonstrated their skill, fitness, and commitment (not)(not)(not). It had all got off to a good start on the Friday, when various members had driven up early to enjoy the local amenities. Gill had spent the day on top of the old man of Coniston, which was confusing because Nick did not arrive until that evening, but anyway it was an impressive achievement. Zoe had got herself settled in to the Campsite early, and inbetween bottles even had time to erect Charlie’s massive dome-tent in his absence.
Meanwhile, it was cute to see that the Club Captains had recently popped down to PetsR’us and invested in a small kennel just large enough for Bramble to curl up in…oh, no: sorry, on closer examination it turned out to be the tent of our most recently recruited member, Craig. And, as Craig found out later that night, he had not actually purchased it at Go Outdoors but mistakenly entered the adjoining store, ‘Aquarium World’. Never mind, Craig, if you turn it inside out next year it might perhaps keep out as much water as it kept inside this time. Anyway, that will teach you for looking so smug after having put it up in 5 seconds flat!
On the subject of tents, there was one noticeable absence this year: Charlie McCoach was still presumably having difficulty trying to fold away his ‘pop up’ Quecha from last year, so had cunningly decided to avoid a repetition of the problem and stay in a B&B instead. Good decision in view of the weather, and of course there is absolutely no suggestion that he has ‘gone soft’, although after being seen in the launch sheltering under an umbrella perhaps it might be wise for him not to show his face again in his hometown of Glasgow for a while…..
Sandra had brought a tent but just couldn’t be bothered to put it up, so she sensibly moved into Jerry & Emma’s tent instead (not a problem, the Guest Wing and servants’ quarters were not being used). Meanwhile, Erica had abandoned last year’s rooftop safari bivouac and invested in a ‘proper’ (i.e. not VW) Camper van. Which gave a whole new meaning to the concept of hearing an ‘UmBongo’ in the Jungle.
VW Camper Van? Who said that? Well, nobody actually, since with Skinner’s absence there was a delicious silence on all matters camper van, motorcar, combustion engine, or in fact any other subject that you might perhaps think of if you opened a dictionary at random and took it from there….But he was sorely missed, as was Walrus, perhaps because they are ‘stalwarts’ of the club, but mainly because we were two men short for crewing the Eight on the Sunday.
The first outing Saturday morning can only be described as wet, wet wet. Godfrey Sports splashtops lived up to their reputation of being unable to keep out anything other than a splash, so the rig was full sou’wester – particularly when lifting the boat out at the end of the outing for that free cold shower, no 50p needed. Everyone dived for the shelter of their tents, with hypothermia fast approaching. By Saturday Lunchtime, the rain was still falling, so a truce was called and rowing postponed. Club Members took the opportunity to explore things that interested them in Coniston Village: so whilst Emma visited the literary exhibition in the Museum entitled ‘Ruskin and Proust: The Venice Connection’, everybody else chose to do some research into the equally profound question of “The Queen’s Head Pub: Bitter or Lager”?
Miraculously, by mid afternoon the rain had stopped and a productive outing followed, with calm waters on the lake and smooth rowing conditions, unlike last year (‘Smooth’ referring to the water, not to the boats). But by this time of day, thoughts were not on footplates, but on dinner plates, so how lucky we were to have the facilities of the cosy Coniston Yacht Club to use of the Saturday Night. Mike and Jen excelled themselves once again by cooking for the 5,000 (had no-one told them there were only 30 of us?) and Charlie helped with the washing up – although perhaps he got a little carried away when trying to flick people on the rear with a wet tea towel: he needs to remember that now he has left Public School he no longer has free access to every backside that takes his fancy!
Sunday dawned dry and with a flat calm on the lake, with misty shrouds of cloud dancing hallucinatingly over the half covered peaks and a mirror in the water that inverted reality such that one seemed to be rowing in the sky (Was that my inner Muse speaking, or just the local mushrooms that Mike had popped into the stroganoff?). Moments like that are rare, special events, that left a feeling of awe and confirmed why we were there, on ‘Our’ own special lake. A second outing followed, the sun even tried to break through, and warmth in the air was felt for the first time that weekend. With the strain of the weekend taking its toll, only the tough guys were left so the Mens’ boat was down to a coxless four, but Jerry’s precision steering enabled them to row the entire length of Coniston Water and back without hitting the bank. All that now remained was to finish the weekend with both crews standing up in their unstabilised boats. (No, the men did not cheat)(much).
The young alpha rowers had also been out on the lake, sculling quite neatly one has to admit, and also managing to avoid infection from all the bad rowing habits of the other club members. Post session video shows some nifty bladework and immaculate timing although there is a rumour running round that the film actually is a loop tape continuously showing the only co-ordinated stroke that they made all weekend!
All too soon proceedings ended with a group hug (well done Oisin, you conquered a teenager’s worst nightmare)(not the hug itself, but rather, having to touch ‘old people’!) and it was time to strike camp, pack up, hit the road, and switch on ‘Sally Traffic’ to find out where various members and their vehicles were blocking the transport system this time…
As always, thanks to the helpers, drivers, supporters who made the weekend work, and also apologies to all those rowers who did not get a mention: you’ll have to be more outrageous in future! So with mice in Kate’s tent, (sloppy housekeeping?) baby lambs trying to suckle Murphy the Yellow Lab, goats in the toilet block and peacocks in the farmhouse it all added up to another crazy weekend of animal behaviour. Here’s to next year….